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Land Rover DC100 concept cars reimagine the classic Defender

November 16, 2011|By Susan Carpenter
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

LandRover's modernized Defender concept cars are making their North American debut at the L.A. Auto Show on Wednesday, and it's likely the concepts will come to fruition.

"The reality is we are going to put it into production," said Land Rover lead designer, Gerry McGovern. "We have to."

The Defender hasn't been available in the U.S. market since 1997 because it isn't equipped with the air bags needed to pass muster with the U.S. Department of Transportation. Now that similar regulations are coming down the pike in Europe, the Defender will need a radical update.

Since its 1948 introduction as an indestructible, street-legal tank, the Defender has remained largely unchanged. In its twin incarnations as the DC100 and DC100 Sport concepts, it's less recognizable as a Defender, but what it loses in instant recognition it gains in premium allure.

Both the completely enclosed DC100 and the topless DC100 Sport represent a potential design direction for a Defender replacement, which Land Rover intends to introduce mid-decade. The Defender face remains recognizable on both versions, with an oversized grille and round head lamps, but its masculine edges have been rounded into shoulders. And, in the case of the DC100 Sport, the entire top has been sheared off.

"If I talk to the traditionalists, they'll say, 'Don't change it.' But you have to change it," McGovern said. "If you created the Defender as it was originally designed today and presented it, people would say, 'What's that all about?' It wouldn't be relevant."

Luckily for McGovern, reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Since their unveiling at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, the wheels on both concepts have been upgraded to alloy 20-inchers and the DC100 is now available with a roof rack and a water-wading snorkel to accompany the sonar system that assesses water depth.

An ability to travel from a red carpet in Hollywood to a rock slab in Moab is a core element of the entire Land Rover brand, so the Defender's off-road capability is being enhanced. Outside, the overhangs have been shortened to improve approach and departure angles in extreme terrain, while the inside is outfitted with user-friendly systems to make the off-loading easier.  

The DC100 concepts employ an evolved version of the Terrain Response system on Land Rover's LR4, allowing drivers to change the car's driving characteristics based on outside conditions. The updated system, which will also warn drivers of approaching obstacles using 3D mapping, will probably appear on an updated LR4 before it appears on an entirely reimagined Defender, which McGovern said could be a half-decade away: "We've already waited 60 years. What's another five?"

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